I understand the drug addict, because I just experienced the high. After a long time away from my drug of choice I recently had a relapse. I succumbed in a moment of weakness and found myself meeting my supplier. Money changed hands and I was handed a paper bag with the stuff inside. I couldn’t even get out of the parking lot where the exchange took place without taking a hit. And it felt stupendous as the stuff lit up the pleasure centers of my brain like nothing else. But then the high wore off and I felt weak and like a failure. Wait – what did you think I was talking about? Drugs? Oh, no no. no. I am talking about McDonalds french fries.
I love a good french fry. To begin with, this Irishman loves his potatoes. And, of course, anything deep fried is almost always better than something that is not. But the one who came up with the combination of the humble potato, a vat of hot oil and a salt shaker with really big holes in the lid had a stroke of brilliance. The origins of the “french fry” (which is no more French than I am) is a mystery for another day. Let us restrict today’s subject to one of the better practitioners of the art.
Who makes the best fries? There’s a loaded question. Are we talking about “best” in terms of when they come out the way the test kitchens envisioned? Or “best” in terms of what you typically get more often than not when you order them? Because there’s a difference.
The late, great Wendy’s french fry was a marvel. When it was right it was thick, hot, crispy, salty and about perfect. But there were few fast food french fries that had a shorter half-life than those from Wendy’s, so that I seemed to get the as-designed version maybe only 30% of the time. They re-engineered their fries a number of years ago to a variety that ages better but lacks the punch of the original when it was at its best.
Those I get from Culver’s (a regional chain out of Wisconsin) are usually quite good, using the fast-disappearing crinkle-cut and generally coming out hot and crispy. Don’t ask me about Burger King, as they seem to have re-done their fries so often I have lost track of what they’re like now.
Maybe it is too many experiences with substandard french fries that has caused my habit of eating my fries first. Because there is nothing that ages so poorly as a french fry. A burger can sit for a half hour and I can still appreciate it. But let a french fry sit for ten minutes and it is dead to me. The only antidote is to dig in quickly and enjoy them in an uninterrupted FryFest until they are gone, at which time the rest of the meal awaits.
There are lots of ways that places can screw up french fries so that eating them first doesn’t really help. Even MickyD can get them wrong, usually by undercooking them so that they come out all limp and oily, and kind of translucent. Yuck. But you have to love a well oiled (sorry) system as is the norm at the Big M because their fries are usually quite good. OK, as long as they are fresh and you don’t get the last ones in the tray that have been sitting there for fifteen minutes. I have experienced bad fries at McD much less frequently than at other places.
[Tangent alert – you will notice that the the word ketchup (or any facsimile thereto) has not been used in the writing of this blog post. Well until now, anyway. French fries are properly enjoyed with salt. Nothing else. You ketchup people won’t understand any of this because, well, just because. End tangent.]
But the really great examples do not come often enough. I can still remember the time several years ago when I stopped at a McDonalds drive-thru along a desolate stretch of a rural 2-lane highway. I was heading for a court appearance in a county far to the north of me and came upon this place at the right time. Have you ever enjoyed the perfect fast food experience? One like the people who produce the commercials get on film only after probably a dozen takes and lots of yelling? Well I got it that day.
It started with a friendly voice coming clearly through the speaker. The staff was cheerful, the service was quick and the food was perfect. Did I say perfect? Why yes I did. The most perfect part of that perfect experience? The french fries. They were so hot I could almost not eat them. They were the perfect combination of temperature, crispiness, saltiness, and with lots of the best parts of the potato. By which I mean lots of long fries and not the gobs of little 1 inch fries that sometimes fill the bottom of the serving container. Anyway, on that day the skies parted, the Angels sang and I ate the most perfect french fries of my life.
But back to my recent experience. I think I broke a record, as it had probably been six months since a McDonalds fry had passed my lips. Seriously, I don’t believe this has happened since perhaps the age of 7. It didn’t help that for many years a well-run example of The Golden Arches was the closest fast food place to my office, so – yeah.
But since the onset of a pandemic we have prepared almost all of our food at home, without a single french fry during that time because I know how hard it would be to make the kind of fry I would find acceptable, so I will not bother with the attempt.
Until that one day a week or so ago when I was pressed for time and my friendly neighborhood McD kindly offered to solve my hunger situation. I got one of those combos that groups one of their quite average burgers with a pouch of fries. I will not argue that the burgers from Ronald’s place are anything great, but they are consistent and will satisfy in a pinch. But it would have to wait until the fries were gone.
I was fortunate that in my backslide I got a little red paper pouch of fries that were Oh, so right. They were hot. They were crispy. They were golden. And they were salty. Oh my, were they salty. They were the kind of salty that make you pucker as you eat a gob of them, as that saltiness hits you like a slap in the face. I love them like that. Oh crap, I just remembered that my doctor reads this occasionally. Maybe we can just sneak on past this part so that I won’t hear about it on my upcoming physical.
Were my fries so perfect because they were as good as that day on the deserted highway years ago? Or because they were the first I had enjoyed in months and months? I am not prepared to say. But when a guy is in the middle of a FryHigh it just doesn’t matter.
After I started wrting this I found myself in that drive-through again, and ordered the same thing. They were not quite as good but I didn’t care. Like the movie of the same name, they were Gone In Sixty Seconds. I think there is only one real solution: “Hi, my name is JP and I have a problem with french fries.”
Free image from Pikrepo.com